EVGA GTX 980 Ti Hybrid Review
As NVIDIAís GTX 980 Ti moves on with its life, board partners have been releasing some increasingly unique cards. EVGA has their KIngpIn, MSIís Lightning received no small amount of attention and GIGABYTE is on the cusp of launching a brand new series in a few weeks. Amidst all of this excitement, the liquid cooled cards have been near the forefront of innovation and performance. While MSIís GTX 980 Ti Sea Hawk was recently featured here, EVGAís own GTX 980 Ti Hybrid was, at least in North America, the first water cooled 980 Ti on the market.
Much like the newly released Sea Hawk, the GTX 980 Ti Hybridís claim to fame is its integrated All In One water cooling unit. With its addition, the card may be a bit more challenging to install but the benefits are multi faceted. Not only will the core run cooler than many air-cooled alternatives but its acoustical profile should be substantially lower as well. Those two factors alone should make the Hybrid a prime candidate for use in small form factor gaming systems that pull double duty has HTPCís as well.
Disclosure: The sample in this review was provided free of charge by EVGA. All opinions expressed herein are solely those of HWC.
In terms of todayís GTX 980 Ti market, the Hybrid certainly isnít the highest performing card around despite its high end cooling solution. There is easily a dozen or more faster cards on the market, among them ASUSí new STRIX OC and MSIís competing Sea Hawk. Even within EVGAís own lineup the Hydro Copper, Classified and aforementioned KIngpIn all boast higher core frequencies. Meanwhile, the GDDR5 memory hasnít been touched either which is an aspect that seems to carry throughout EVGAís product stack regardless of price point.
Even though EVGA may not win the clock speed or performance battle with this card, thereís more to it than what first meets the eye via its on-paper specifications. Not only does the integrated water cooler hold a value all its own but, provided temperatures are low enough, weíve seen custom GTX 980 Ti cards like this one grant some very surprising Boost clocks if the board partner provides additional Power Limit headroom.
One area that EVGA may find themselves fighting an uphill battle is on the pricing front. At $749 (just over a grand here in Canada) the Hybrid finds itself in some elite company when compared against air cooled options. The STRIX OC, MSIís Gaming 6G and several other options provide better Base and Boost frequencies but cost between $60 and $90 less. There can also be no denying that MSIís GTX 980 Ti Sea Hawk is laser-targeted at the Hybrid since it retails for the same $749 yet has higher (on paper at least) performance and boasts the instantly recognizable Corsair brand name.
EVGA has recognized that the Hybrid is something of an older statesman among the newer crop of GTX 980 Tiís since it was launched months before most of the current competition. As a result, that $749 price has been recently reduced at some retailers to a more palatable $720 via an instant rebate. EVGA has also begun offering a free upgraded faceplate with an integrated LED for owners of the GTX 980 Ti Hybrid but the value of that swap-out will ultimately come down to personal preference.
The overall design of the Hybrid is a pretty basic two-part affair that weíve already seen with the Sea Hawk. The card itself is covered in a reference-style with a blower fan thatís meant to provide airflow for any internal components not directly touched by the water coolerís contact plate. This design gives it a much smaller footprint than some air cooled alternatives, though you will still need a 120mm fan port for mounting the radiator / fan combo.
Unlike the Sea Hawk, EVGA has provided a generous 14Ē of tubing length so their radiator can be mounted nearly anywhere in larger cases. This may cause some spatial constrains in smaller enclosures but for most users, the higher range of adaptability will be appreciated.
The default shroud is both subtle and well designed with a thick plastic that is predominantly black with a few champagne-colored accents. Personally, I prefer this look to the newer shroud EVGA is offering free of charge. I also noticed that the whole thing ďfeelsĒ higher quality than MSIís Sea Hawk but thatís a completely off-the-cuff observation. Length is 10.75Ē so fitment within anything but the smallest enclosures.
Unlike the rough opening of MSIís Sea Hawk, EVGA has sealed the area between their shroud and neoprene tubes with a rubberized closure piece. Itís little touches like this which make the Hybrid feel like a cut above its competitors. Speaking of that tubing, it is bound in a tight fitting plasticized sleeving which makes it extremely flexible while still retaining excellent anti-kinking abilities.
EVGA has also taken a different approach to fan control than MSI. The 120mm radiator fan is attached directly to the cardís internal header so core cooling is based on water temperatures rather than a random set of motherboard-based variables like the Sea Hawk. There are both benefits and drawbacks to this approach. On one hand, ease of installation is enhanced and users donít have to worry about modifying speeds of their motherboardís fan headers for that optimal combination of acoustics and cooling power. However, MSIís solution does grant more fine-grain control for those who are willing or able to customize their fan profiles.
Since EVGA uses the same Asetek OEMíd water cooler as MSI (though the Sea Hawkís has been rebranded with the Corsair name), the radiator / fan unit looks almost identical at first glance. While the single thickness radiator itself is a direct clone, the fan doesnít have any integrated LEDís and sports a slightly different set of specifications. Whereas the Corsair-branded fan operates at a maximum of 1700RPMs, this one is rated to 2000RPMs at a slightly higher decibel range while the static pressure envelope is nearly identical.
The coolerís layout underneath the shroud departs quite drastically from MSIís Sea Hawk. Whereas MSI has used Corsairís CPU-centric H55 AIO (basically Asetekís 550LC), EVGA has decided to utilize a version of the GPU-specific Asetek 740LC. The visual differences between the two are minor at best but internally the 740LC has a contact plate specifically designed for GPU cores, something the H55 lacks due to its CPU cooling roots.
EVGA has also added a much broader secondary heatsink that makes contact with more PCB-bound components than whatís offered on the Sea Hawk. However, the secondary cooling design works identically with an intake fan, a large aluminum fin array covering critical VRM components and an extensive plate over the GDDR5 modules. For those wondering, the PCBís layout doesnít depart one iota from NVIDIAís reference design.
Around back EVGA has added an awesome-looking perforated backplate which certainly adds to the visual appeal of their card but does very little for actual cooling properties.
Connector-wise we see a pure reference design layout with a 6+8 pin power input layout while the rear plate receives three DisplayPort 1.2 outputs, a single HDMI 2.0 and one DVI-D.
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